Saturday, June 16, 2012

Economic downturn threatens focus at sustainability summit

Laurie Goering in AlertNet: World leaders, already struggling with tough economic times, will sit down in Rio next week to try to sort out a daunting array of other problems – from how to deal with climate change and worsening scarcity of key resources like food and water, to how to make the world’s economy less environmentally destructive and more effective for the world’s poor.

The Rio+20 sustainable development conference – which comes 20 years after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit – recognizes that the world’s environmental, economic and social problems are increasingly inter-related and need to be addressed jointly, experts say.

The question is whether the crises brewing around the world – including the current economic downturn – will focus leaders’ minds on the need for change or simply be too big a distraction for the gathering to make significant progress, experts say.

“Rio+20 should serve as a wake-up call for our planet,” said Manish Bapna, interim president of the World Resources Institute, a U.S.-based thinktank. “Leaders in Rio need to make sustainability a global priority, placing it at the very center of political and economic agendas. We can no longer afford to view environmental issues as being apart from, or in conflict with economic growth – but rather see sustainability as an integrated, pro-growth path forward,” he said.

Leaders meeting at Rio are expected to consider launching a number of fundamental changes, including new Sustainable Development Goals to replace the largely unfulfilled Millennium Development Goals that expire in 2015. They will also consider measures to expand GDP – the current measure used to judge economic progress – to put a value on “ecosystem services” provided by forests, wetlands and other natural systems, which help provide clean water, stable rainfall and services like pollination....

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